Cute vs. Socially Awkward
“Oh he is so cute!” We hear this often from people. We simply smile and keep our thoughts to ourselves. Our thoughts range from yeah we need to talk to him about that later or umm it is not really cute, it is rather inappropriate for his age. He is only five, so yeah, some of it is rather cute or even funny, but in six months, one year, five years, is it still going to be cute or simply that ugly word awkward.
A few months ago I took my son to the park. Other children were playing and he wanted to be included but had no idea how to include himself appropriately other than demanding they all play by his rules when they already had a game going. Later on he preceded to throw wood chips at a girl about his age. He found this hilarious, she did not. I got a nasty look from her mother; not surprising. I finally caught my son and explained to him the rudeness of the situation, to which he laughed and said it was so funny! He did not get it, and even to this day, he does not get it. The girl eventually left the park; I felt bad and tried explaining to the mother my son has Autism. She did not care and did not want to listen. Such is the life of a parent with a kid on the spectrum.
When I have shared this story with others, I usually get a chuckle and some remark similar to, “That is a typical boy for you.” Yes, true, that is a typical obnoxious boy, but at five he should be able to understand when I explain he needs to stop because she does not like things being thrown at her. But instead he keeps throwing them and it is clear that he is doing it to because he thinks he is playing a game with her, when she clearly does not like it. He is not doing it to be an obnoxious boy; he is doing it because he thinks it is a game that she is fully engaged in as well. Socially awkward.
Is it Cute or Awkward?
I laugh when I try to answer this because really there is no set criteria for cute vs. awkward; however there is a general standard of what is appropriate depending on age. For example, my five year old making strange noises with his mouth may be a typical five year old trait, especially for boys, but let’s face it, this is not appropriate in certain situations such as church or classroom during instruction time. A five year old should be able to begin deciphering between when it is appropriate to make noises and when it is not. My son does not have that deciphering skill; he is not even close to obtaining it.
I suppose it really depends on what is more socially acceptable in our culture. Based on these general values, we try hard to teach our son what is appropriate and what is not. And of course being on the spectrum things need to be logical for his mind to comprehend things, so when he asks me why it is not appropriate, I need a logical answer… and let’s face it, often there is not a logical answer except that it seems weird.
Explaining Social Awkwardness
Like I said above, good luck explaining social awkwardness to a kid on the spectrum. Some kids are able to get it and understand the grey area concept, but many are not capable of grasping this idea. This is mostly due to the aspect that they are socially unaware of what is going on around them. They are only capable of processing one thing at a time, so social cues and concepts generally get totally missed.
We have tried using social cues or nonverbal signs for our son, and it is rather humorous because he either completely misses it, while looking right at us while we are doing the nonverbal sign, or he stops and asks us, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Why are you shaking your head like that?” Totally awkward at the moment, but often funny when you look back at it later on. But I admit, it is becoming less and less funny and more frustrating.
We do our best to catch the awkward moment in action and pull our son aside to explain to him that inappropriateness of the situation. Generally he is too busy and focused on his own task to hear us, it often feels pointless. We try to discuss it later on, but he usually does not remember the situation and gets rather confused. But we will keep discussing it and hopefully he will eventually begin to understand.
Often social skills groups or therapists will use social cards to teach these skills. Again, this can be a bit difficult because it is not really concrete enough for them, but it helps and gets ideas flowing in them. Here are some resources I found:
I encourage you as parents to continually work on these skills with your child. Also, have therapists and teachers work on these skills as well. It can be easily incorporated into therapy. This is something I do with my young clients who are on the spectrum (and even my adult clients) to help them learn social skills.
Final Words and Thoughts
My husband and I often feel anxious about our son’s future. My main worry is will he be able to fit in well enough with his peers so that he is not teased constantly? Even if he does not always pick up the teasing by others, eventually he will begin to realize the situation and then depression and other issues can begin to set in. I can imagine many of you are reading this and going through this very struggle right now. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. I can feel your pain and despair. I get it.
So my friends, continue to teach your child and be patient with them. Love them and pray for them. Get the help they need and the help you need. You are your child’s greatest teacher, though sometimes I question if my son even listens to me. If you need help, contact me. Otherwise good luck and keep pressing on!